Share a vision of what Manitou’s new library can be

*Note: This essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on March 21, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.

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Author Neil Gaiman once wrote that “individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.” Let’s give that a go: what will a modernized library in Manitou Springs provide the community?

When the library undergoes its anticipated expansion to a little more than double its current footprint, it will do so much more for Manitou than take in a few more patrons. The design accommodates the disabled and includes separate children’s, teen, and adult book stacks; specified quiet study and reading areas; doubles computer access; and includes two community meeting rooms with accessible kitchen and bathroom facilities, and the ability for organizations to self-lockup for after-hours events.

The local school district will benefit in having an additional option for after-school programming. And, as security threats have grown in the minds of all parents in our modern age—the fact that the new library will be of sufficient size and capability to provide the elementary school an alternate site in an emergency is noteworthy.

Chicago’s outgoing mayor spoke recently at the London School of Economics and commented on the critical role his city’s 82 libraries play in education. He pointed out that “every library in our city…has a tutor from 3 to 6 p.m. after school to help kids on homework.”

What if, when the library is expanded to a size that can actually accommodate a dozen or more students (while still leaving other patrons to their own bookish interests), local schools and parent-teacher associations formalized a similar commitment to help at-risk students in the newly upgraded library?

Or also for the kids, beyond school, my daughter’s local Girl Scout troop folded in part because there wasn’t a consistent meeting space that was free-of-charge. The new library will accommodate such organizations.

Especially for adults. My retired father is part of a Sherlock Holmes fan club. Organizations like that don’t always want the din and ambient noise that comes with coffee shops or the back of bars, and typically want something a bit more studious. Same goes for other book clubs, public lectures, and even film screenings. All these social gatherings will gain with the expanded library.

It’s also clear our civic life will be enhanced immensely with the library’s expansion. The new library will quickly become a much better hub for citizens to engage with city government and community life. Because so many people already head to the library (over 50,000 patron visits in 2017)—doubling its size and making it accessible to those with disabilities—will ensure that all Manitoids have a useful resource for critical local goings-on.

Right now, the library’s entryway is only big enough to stuff a few flyers and advertisements.

Instead, imagine a curated, high-quality, rotating city display where patrons can learn about city events. It might, for a time, explain what the Parks and Recreation Board is up to; or, as votes approach, passers-by might encounter a poster explaining ballot measures. Right next to the city’s display, there might be a spot for the Manitou Arts Center or the Manitou Springs Heritage Center or a place to educate citizens on our artesian water, trees and flora.

The new library will provide another practical benefit. A few years ago, the city was interested in an alternate site for emergencies. With the library positioned as it is—upslope—it seems a newly expanded building might possess this side benefit for such crises.

On to economic crises: The new library will expand computer terminals and high-speed internet access which will help our fellow citizens break past the digital divide and stimulate economic activity.

Or there’s the hard fact that cities die when they run out of people willing to invest in them. By coming together as a community to take on the task of rebuilding and reimagining our library—our social infrastructure—is a statement that Manitou Springs is strong and getting stronger.

Lastly, we shouldn’t neglect the essential value of a place that provides a beautiful, quiet, safe space for growing minds (of all ages) to take refuge from the hazards of life to focus on a single story.

That story should be: Manitou’s library doesn’t have to be like this. It can be different. Better.

And we will change it, if we can just share a vision of what it can be.

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